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When did you take up your position with the company and what does your role involve?
Absolutely is my family business which was founded by my great grandfather George Thompson in 1865, as a transport business working closely with the Railway Companies .I joined the business in the late 70s after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant and started the courier side of the business in 1984. Within a few years the courier side became the dominant part of the business and we started our strategy of growth through acquisition in 1994. Since then we have acquired about 25 other courier companies. As Managing Director I set the strategy and goals of the organisation and make sure we have the right people in place to deliver that strategy. I’m quite involved with the acquisition aspect of the business.
Who else is in the senior management team besides you?
We have four members of our Board – myself, Tarquin Tan (Operations Director) and two non-executive Directors. We have a Manager of each of our three satellite branches and various departmental managers who make up the next management tier. You can find full details of our team on our website.
How big is your organisation today?
Absolutely currently employs about 130 people across the organisation along with approximately 300 self-employed riders and drivers. We currently have four locations in London with about 100 cars, 110 vans, 50 motorcycles and 40 bicycles (including 5 cargo bikes). Having rebranded as Absolutely from what was previously 24 different trading names, we are now the second largest courier company in London.
What’s your USP that sets you apart from other companies?
Although we are one of the largest same day courier companies in the UK, we have stayed true to our roots and people are still the most important element of our business. Clients regularly talk about our friendly staff, our integrity and the quality of our courier services. It is really our dedication to our customers and clients which sets us apart. Our name ‘Absolutely’ represents our commitment to delivering absolutely anything and getting the job done. Over the years this has included almost everything imaginable from legal documents to human hearts but all jobs are treated with care and professionalism. The images of objects on our branding reflects the varied items which we have delivered – one a particularly memorable instance of a lobster which made a bid for freedom under the back seat!
Can you tell us in more detail about what technology you use?
The development of technology is increasingly significant for the courier industry. In this aspect we are very fortunate to have a partnership with DA Systems Ltd who are the principal providers of software for the courier industry. This means we often get the opportunity to beta test the latest innovative products before they even hit the main market.
A key day-to-day application is the use of mobile data to keep us in touch with our drivers and customers. We can track our drivers’ movements via GPS to within 10m in order to assist them with directions if needed. When a rider or driver accepts a job with us, all the details are sent to his mobile device and when the delivery is made, we can forward the signature on to the client within just 10 seconds of delivery. Additionally, we also have on-board cameras on most vehicles – this doesn’t just represent full transparency on our part but also the necessity for safety. Through DA Systems and our experience of the sector we will remain at the forefront of technology within the industry for the foreseeable future.
Can you talk us through how clients use your services?
We have an eclectic mix of clients in many different sectors throughout London. We understand that life and work remains unpredictable so when our clients are in a pickle or they just need to get something across town they know they can rely on us to absolutely deliver. Clients book our services via our friendly call centre or through our online booking platform which is accessed at www.askabsolutely.com, along with all our tracking facilities. We move day to day items such as documents and IT equipment, but we also work with some amazing brands in retail, media and film who often work to tight deadlines when moving samples for fashion shoots, etc.
What do you see as the biggest external factors currently driving demand for your services?
We are a bellwether for business activity in London, which has positive and negative sides. When London business does well, so does Absolutely. We saw trading slow in the lead up to Brexit but after the referendum business has soared resulting in significantly increased orders for courier services.
What are the key elements for the business in achieving a positive customer service experience?
Ensuring a positive customer service experience is a big part of our offering. One of the most important ways of going about this is to hire the right people. Our Customer Services team have worked in our industry for many years and understand the need for a swift and timely response to queries. Couriers who work with us, go through a rigorous process. Generally they have to have been a courier before and have to pass a test on the proficiency of their London knowledge. In short, we only work with people who we think will fit with our values and efficiency, and deliver on absolutely every delivery. If you think you have the right skills, visit our jobs section by clicking here.
Another trend in business is for everyone to want integrated, seamless, joined up information. What are you offering in response?
We listen to our clients and potential customers to ensure we can offer a seamless experience. Aside from offering industry leading technology with every booking we understand that some industries and clients require a more integrated experience. We are always open to and interested in these types of partnerships. We have the ability to offer a more integrated / white labelled approach, eg. client branded internet booking, email confirmation, etc., along with more complex requirements.
What opportunities and challenges have you been presented with in recent times?
The congestion in central London provides us with certain challenges as it continues to worsen. Now that the average speed in London is down to 7.8mph some of the delivery timings in central London are not much different to the horse and cart times that our business was founded on back in 1865. Productivity losses across London were recently quoted in the Evening Standard as £237m a year and that is why adapting to the challenge is critical as we have done with the greater use of bicycles and cargo bikes as well as the growth of our technology systems. Having the right team for these sorts of objectives is immensely important and we are fortunate in the strength of the team which Absolutely possesses at every level. We have had many opportunities in recent times, not least our partnership with DA Systems (providing us with the latest in courier technology), our rebranding (taking us from an umbrella of around 24 trading names to a single modern brand) and our various acquisitions. Furthermore, we are a leading member of the APC network which is the largest independently owned overnight delivery network in the country. Membership of this network has been a significant factor in our growth in recent years and it is the fastest growing area of our business. Based in Park Royal, it is an area where we see increasing opportunities for Absolutely.
How important is energy efficiency in your business and have you made any investment into energy saving recently?
We use push bikes for local deliveries which has helped us to lower our emissions and fuel use. We also make use of cargo bikes which offer enlarged transport capabilities. We use cargo bikes especially in the City and West End because it is here that they can fulfil jobs that are normally required of a van, ensuring maximum efficiency. Our key vehicle of choice for passenger transportation on the other hand is the hybrid Toyota Prius which is very environmentally friendly. Furthermore, all of our alternative vehicles are no more than a couple of years old which ensures that emissions are minimised.
Are you taking part in any exhibitions over the next few months, to get your message across?
We are very excited about the upcoming Office show at London Olympia on 1st and 2nd March. This two-day event will allow us to meet with existing and potential new customers. It will also give us the opportunity to really get our new brand out amongst our target audience.
Any plans for acquisitions or investments?
Our business is run on a very successful acquisitive model and we are always on the look-out for further investments. We had a really successful 2016 in acquiring Destinations Green and Creative Cars and Couriers and we hope to grow the company further over the coming years with acquisitions planned in the near future. You can see the information about our latest acquisitions on the news section of the website.
If you could send a message to the Transport Secretary, what would it be?
Abolish the Congestion Charge for commercial vehicles – they don’t drive in London for fun. The Congestion Charge does not stop commercial vehicles from driving in London – they are there because they have a job to do. The Charge is simply a tax on a necessary service.
Where do you see the company going from here?
London’s roads are getting busier. The safety of our couriers is paramount and we are in talks to find out how we can use cutting edge technology to improve safety for the cyclists who work with us.
Absolutely, as London’s longest established courier company, has an amazing heritage. For example our bank account at Nat West’s Holborn Circus branch is the oldest account in the branch and has just six digits! We intend to carry this heritage forward under our new modern branding and to continue to give our customers the service we always have – a commitment for professional delivery in “Absolutely” any job.